NYFF 2010: The Robber

by |
09/29/2010 1:40 PM |

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Benjamin Heisenberg‘s The Robber plays tonight, and played Monday night, at the 48th New York Film Festival. The film is currently without distribution.

“Pumpgun Ronnie” was the name the Austrian press gave to the man who, armed with a shotgun and disguised in a Reagan mask, went on a bankrobbing spree there in the late 1980s; aside from inspiring Point Break, this man, Johann Kastenberger, was in fact an accomplished marathoner. With his adaptation of Martin Prinz’s historically close-hewing novel Der Räuber, Benjamin Heisenberger makes another movie about a bank robber who does it for the rush: Johan Rettenberger, as he’s called here (Andreas Lust), goes out on cross-country runs, and robberies, with a heart-rate monitor strapped to his chest.

Though there’s an explicitly Bigelovian Steadicam shot chasing an escaping thief over fences and through clotheslines, the film is tonally closer to the loneliness of the long-distance runner than the surfing, skydiving, beach football and overall dick-swinging of the Ex-Presidents. Lust, last seen jogging as the guilt-ridden cop in Revanche, has an almost cadaverously gray face and a thin, grim mouth; first glimpsed doing somber laps around the prison yard, and then thumping on the treadmill in his cell, Johann could be one of Paul Schrader’s obsessive physical and spiritual purists. Heisenberg’s direction, with its feng shui widescreen and spare, emphatic sound design, takes its cues from arthouse rigor rather than box-office thrills. The film, like its protagonist’s life, is a stripping-down and burning-off of everything that isn’t essential.

This is, at times, telegraphed: Erika (Franziska Weisz), Johann’s sometime girlfriend, is given little to do except plaintively meet resistance whenever she tries to tug at his emotions; the film, like its protagonist, is only alive when engaged in kinetic repetition. The cutting, as Johann runs through the woods, steals cars and speeds along (blasting Europop radio), takes over a bank, and runs off, is seamless and hypnotic; the film’s final, extended manhunt (steeplechase?), from the dark of night through midday, is lean and logical, driven by physical necessity.